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Ravages of Diphtheria in 1880s in Logan Co.

By The Logan County Genealogy Society

October 11, 2013

The following article was taken from The Logan Banner, January 29, 1929:


Old register tells of ravages here of Diphtheria known then only as “sore throat”


Way back in the eighties in Logan County the register of deaths in the county clerk’s office at the Court House, discloses a startling number of deaths due to “sore throat.” At that time the physicians reported deaths direct to the clerk. Old settlers speak of the time when the sore throat, in reality the disease diphtheria, was raging. Only a small percentage of the many deaths caused by this were recorded.


Sometimes almost an entire family would fall victim, some cases showing the death of four or five children, and two on the same day. In 1875 in one week Mr. and Mrs. Milton Browning lost four children. On the fifteenth of September their two-year-old daughter, Laura, died; the following day Martrund and Corintha, ages eight and four, succumbed to the same disease, as did their sixteen-year-old brother, William R. Browning, on September 21.


In October of that year the John Riffe family was another family greatly saddened. Mr. and Mrs. Riffe losing five children in the course of fourteen days. On October 28 their daughter, Laura E. passed away. She was four years of age; the next day another daughter, Mary N., six years old, also died. The day following, October 30, both Leander and Elliott, ages eight years and eight months came to the same fate; as did Luemma, youngest daughter of the Riffes, on the tenth of November.


The next year it seems the dreaded “sore throat” continued to spread. Mr. and Mrs. Warren Cline were among families caused great sorrow by deaths attributed to the disease. Four of their children died, namely: David and Philmedia, ages seven and one, on November 2; Wilburn, an infant of three years, nine months, and twenty days on the third; and their six-year-old son, Jacob, on November 13th.


The first death of this nature reported as “diphtheria” was that of Doliver, four-year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. M. Whitman, of Chapmanville district. This was on January 15, 1876. Evidently some physician from a distant point moved into this section, and knew the plague and its symptoms. Or perhaps one of the old-time physicians “read up” on the subject. Through modern methods surgeons combat diphtheria, and save many lives.


— As published in Logan County Genealogical Society Newsletter, Vol. 27, Issue 1, 2004


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Logan County Genealogical Society meetings are held on the second Monday of each month at 6 p.m. in the Logan Area Public Library at Logan. Anyone wishing to learn more about researching their ancestors is welcome to attend the meetings or follow them on Facebook at Logan County WV Genealogical Society.